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El Dorado

33.
Little Mother
The two women, both so young still, but each of them with a mark of sorrow
already indelibly graven in her heart, were clinging to one another, bound
together by the strong bond of sympathy. And but for the sadness of it all it were
difficult to conjure up a more beautiful picture than that which they presented as
they stood side by side; Marguerite, tall and stately as an exquisite lily, with the
crown of her ardent hair and the glory of her deep blue eyes, and Jeanne Lange,
dainty and delicate, with the brown curls and the child-like droop of the soft, moist
lips.
Thus Armand saw them when, a moment or two later, entered unannounced. He
had pushed open the door and looked on the two women silently for a second or
two; on the girl whom he loved so dearly, for whose sake he had committed the
great, the unpardonable sin which would send him forever henceforth, Cain-like,
a wanderer on the face of the earth; and the other, his sister, her whom a Judas
act would condemn to lonely sorrow and widowhood.
He could have cried out in an agony of remorse, and it was the groan of acute
soul anguish which escaped his lips that drew Marguerite's attention to his
presence.
Even though many things that Jeanne Lange had said had prepared her for a
change in her brother, she was immeasurably shocked by his appearance. He
had always been slim and rather below the average in height, but now his usually
upright and trim figure seemed to have shrunken within itself; his clothes hung
baggy on his shoulders, his hands appeared waxen and emaciated, but the
greatest change was in his face, in the wide circles round the eyes, that spoke of
wakeful nights, in the hollow cheeks, and the mouth that had wholly forgotten
how to smile.
Percy after a week's misery immured in a dark and miserable prison, deprived of
food and rest, did not look such a physical wreck as did Armand St. Just, who
was free.
Marguerite's heart reproached her for what she felt had been neglect,
callousness on her part. Mutely, within herself, she craved his forgiveness for the
appearance of that phantom which should never have come forth from out that
chaotic hell which had engendered it.
"Armand!" she cried.
And the loving arms that had guided his baby footsteps long ago, the tender
hands that had wiped his boyish tears, were stretched out with unalterable love
toward him.
"I have a message for you, dear," she said gently--"a letter from him.
Mademoiselle Jeanne allowed me to wait here for you until you came."
Silently, like a little shy mouse, Jeanne had slipped out of the room. Her pure
love for Armand had ennobled every one of her thoughts, and her innate
kindliness and refinement had already suggested that brother and sister would
wish to be alone. At the door she had turned and met Armand's look. That look
 
 
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